Wildcat Creek plays no favorites – a fact born out in the rather frequent swapping of fortunes and misfortunes in Saturday’s race on the Wildcat. Were Wildcat Creek the Dread Pirate Roberts, it would legitimately say “I’m no one to be trifled with!” But trifle with it we did…
Running fast and high, Wildcat Creek was the kind of creek race many of us dream about: sufficient water to get through (almost) everywhere and with high speeds, but enough twists, turns, large boulders, rapids, fallen trees and even a few shallows to test your river-reading and boat handling skills. Or boat ruggedness if you happened to side-swipe a few large boulders, as I seemed prone to do.
We had quite a variety of age and skill levels represented: Roland Muhlen, Ray Bower, Terry Pontius, Roger Crisp, and Tom Thomas represented serious experience at one end of the spectrum, while a young Nathan Greeley, having recently purchased Guy Gilman’s wood strip C1, was embarking on his first canoe race. Ted Beatty raced with his daughter Lia, likely the youngest paddler on the course (although she definitely has some experience!) We also had Betsy Arnold back on the racing circuit, competing against Brent Ernsberger in K1 Downriver. Larry Swift brought a beautiful, but recreational, C1 and still held his own on the course. Bill Kanost teamed up with Guy Gilman to run C2 man. And finally George Tinsley and Hilman Culp rounded out the morning crew. It just wouldn’t be a race without our aluminum team keeping an eye on any stragglers!
With the high flow rate, we lined up about as well as we could in the morning, and Roger sent us off with a “rolling” start. Ted Beatty and his daughter Lia charged out to an early and long-sustained lead. I ran with them a short distance, then figured riding their wake was a better option. Right behind me and paddling furiously was the dynamic duo of Bill Kanost and Guy Gilman, followed by those classic C1 ironmen Tom Thomas, Roland Muhlen, and Ray Bower, with others following behind. Early on we pretty much kept this lineup, as the current flow and river twists didn’t present much of an opportunity for passing. But gradually Kanost/Gilman started to make their move. As they passed the Beatty-2 C2, I tagged onto the Kanost/Gilman wake and moved along with them. Then we came to a notorious bend in the river where last year I ground-out on a rock and turned sideways, all 21 ft of my surf ski blocking the river just as 4 C1’s came around the corner. This year that bend had a tree blocking it, but with the high water levels there was a shallow section we could pass through, bypassing the bend. Great idea, but I was caught on the left side of the Kanost/Gilman boat, and the flow of the river pushed me further to the left and left me stuck in the shallows. Getting stuck here seems to be a theme for me…
In the process of getting unstuck, I watched as the Beattys, Tom, and Roland passed by. Finally unstuck, I now had the work of playing catch-up. As I caught up with Roland, I noticed that Tom Thomas had moved towards the front of the pack. Ribbing Roland, I asked “How did you let that old guy get ahead of you?” Roland yelled back “He cheated! Tom told me to bring my old, heavy boat while he brought his new, lighter boat!” Cheater or not, shortly thereafter Tom proved to be a great asset for my race. Coming into a more restricted area of the creek, both C2’s opted to run straight ahead, while Tom went to the right and curved around back to the opening. Noting that Tom is quite an experienced river reader, I followed in his path. One of my better choices! Sure enough, both C2’s ground out, putting Tom in the lead with me in hot pursuit.
Tom complains a lot about old age aches and pains, but put him on the water and he’s a terror. I eventually caught Tom, but it took a considerable distance. Around that time Kanost and Gilman caught up as well, and as before I tagged onto their wake. We stayed in that order for some distance, with Kanost/Gilman leading, followed by me and then Tom, with Roland and the Beatty’s a short distance further back. Then I got another break: coming to one of the longer bridges over the creek, there was a tree covering almost the whole width of the river. Spotting an opening on the left, I charged for it. Kanost and Gilman delayed in making their decision, but then went that way as well – but now they had lost some precious distance and time. Taking the lead, I paddled hard and maintained the lead to the end, but not by much: Kanost and Gilman were a mere 2 seconds behind me, and Tom was only 29 seconds further back! It was some intense, close racing with the whims of the river sometimes making all the difference in the order.
All of our paddlers arrived unscathed, although there were a few interesting situations. As noted earlier, I side-swiped a couple of large boulders pretty hard, but managed to stay upright. I understand Nathan went for a swim once, and I believe a few others sampled the waters as well.
Matt Conrad joined us for the afternoon race, while Roger Crisp swapped his timing hat for a racing hat and also ran in the afternoon. Kanost and Gilman didn’t get enough racing in the morning, so they ran again in the afternoon, as did our ever-energetic aluminum duo of George Tinsley and Hilman Culp. Ted Beatty decided he needed another round of Wildcat Creek as well, but this time he opted to run solo and took revenge against his morning loss by beating Kanost/Gilman to the finish line. I haven’t heard any word on how the afternoon racers fared, but with no notice of anyone’s demise, I assume all finished well and with a smile on their face.
Many thanks to Roger Crisp and Terry Pontius for putting on a great race! And to Roger’s daughter, Julie Birge, for her help as well. Results are shown below.
UPDATE: Gathering GPS data from a few of our racers, it appears the course was 9.5 miles long.
2019 WILDCAT KAYAK & CANOE RACE RESULTS
Wildcat Creek was up, fast, and fun! (USGA level 5.75)
1st Tom Thomas 1:12:49
2nd Roland Muhlen 1:14:07
3rd Ray Bower 1:15:15
4th Terry Pontius 1:20:34
5th Larry Swift 1:24:19
6th Nathan Greeley 1:29:18
1st Steve Horney 1:12:18
1st Betsy Arnold 1:19:15
2nd Brent Ernsberger 1:22:16
1st Lia Beatty 1:14:33
1st Bill Kanost 1:12:20
1st Hilman Culp 1:29:18
K-1 Sea Kayak
1st Matt Conrad 1:17:33
2nd Roger Crisp 1:24:45
1st Bill Kanost 1:15:24
1st Hilman Culp 1:25:02
1st Ted Beaty 1:14:15